Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce Disses Government ?Programs for the Poor on His Radio Show, While Helping to Run One

Tuning into The Russell Pearce Show on Saturday nights on Phoenix talk-radio station KKNT 960 AM can be illuminating.

For example, on one recent episode, the recalled former state Senate president got off on the subject of public assistance in all its various forms.

He suggested that if people would just give him the authority, he'd set things right with all these here gub'mint programs.

"You put me in charge of Medicaid," Pearce told one caller, "the first thing I'd do is get [female recipients] Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations. Then, we'll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job."

Down deep, Pearce really is an old softy. This is just his version of tough love.

"I know there's people out there [who] need help, and my heart goes out to them, too," he explained that same evening. "But you know what? That should never be a government role. That's a role for family, church, and community."

Talk about dropping an H-bomb of hypocrisy.

Because not only does Pearce benefit from a generous public-employee pension born of his holding several government positions over the years, he recently scored a job working for Maricopa County Treasurer Charles "Hos" Hoskins at the handsome salary of $85,000 per year.

Among his duties are helping to promote participation in a county program known as the Elderly Assistance Fund, which helps low-income seniors reduce their property taxes.

That is, he's helping to do exactly what he preaches against on his radio show.

According to Hoskins, Pearce's new job was "re-created" after getting abolished five years ago during a time of county belt-tightening.

Since then, because of lack of participation in the fund, it's ballooned to nearly $6 million.

But there are cash-strapped seniors out there, and one of Pearce's jobs will be to get them to apply and use the property tax credit coming to them.

Hoskins says Pearce will have other duties and he will have at least three employees working under him. During a visit to the treasurer's office, Hoskins showed me what will be Pearce's cubicle-office, which at the time lacked a doorknob.

Presumably, Pearce has earned his knob. Hoskins tells me Pearce started work on July 28.

Meanwhile, Pearce remains first vice chair of the Arizona Republican Party, an unpaid position he was elected to in 2012.

He still is influential within the Arizona GOP, and his endorsement is sought after, though it didn't do much good for former California Congressman Frank Riggs, who came in last in the Republican primary for governor.

Similarly, Pearce's revenge candidate for state Senate in Legislative District 25, Ralph Heap, was bested in the GOP primary by current state Senator Bob Worsley, who beat Pearce by 12 points in the 2012 primary.

If Pearce's new post was in state government, he might have a problem keeping his leadership role with the state GOP because of laws restricting political activity by state employees, known as Arizona's "little Hatch Act," after a similar law governing federal employees.

Alas, I've been told by more than one expert in election law that the state law does not apply to county and city agencies.

The county does have an ethics handbook online for employees, suggesting certain limits on political activities "to ensure the proper and unbiased functioning of Maricopa County government."

These include a statement that a county employee, "whether merit covered or unclassified, may not be a candidate for nomination or election to any public office which is either paid or partisan."

However, county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick tells me, the handbook was never approved, has never been in force, and should not be online.

In any case, it seems appropriate that Pearce get to keep both his party epaulettes and his new gig, since it was good old-fashioned party cronyism that got him the job in the first place.

See, I recently learned both from e‑mails obtained from Hoskins' office and from Hoskins himself how Pearce became the face of the Elderly Assistance Fund.

It certainly wasn't Pearce's honesty on his job application, because as I wrote in a July blog post, Pearce claimed on his county application to have attended graduate school at the University of Arizona, which according to the university, he did not.

Pearce also claimed to have attended "graduate school" at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

A spokesman for Harvard informed me that Pearce went to the school's three-week Senior Executives in State and Local Government program in 1996. The Kennedy School offers a graduate program, but Pearce was not in it.

Asked about these discrepancies, Pearce claimed the information "was simply put in the wrong box."

That aside, it seems the germ of the idea that resulted in Pearce's hiring came from Royce Flora, Hoskins' chief deputy and a political fan of Pearce's.

Both a Republican and a genial and very forthcoming man, Hoskins explained that it all began with a chat between Flora and county Republican Committee Chairman A.J. LaFaro.

"There was a conversation that took place at a meeting," Hoskins said. "I think it was probably at a [Republican] legislative district meeting between Mr. LaFaro and Mr. Flora, my chief deputy. And the subject of the elderly assistance fund came up.

"Mr. LaFaro asked if he could come in and get a briefing on [the fund]. Mr. Flora advised me of that, and I told him to set it up."

LaFaro asked if he could bring along Pearce and former MCRC Chairman Tom Husband.

Hoskins had no problem with this; the meeting was scheduled for May 5.

Hoskins says LaFaro ended up not coming that day, so Pearce and Husband got the presentation. Hoskins believes LaFaro rescheduled and received the same presentation at a later date.

Pearce "wasn't in the running" for the job at the time, according to Hoskins, who said there was "no discussion of any employment for Mr. Pearce prior to July 8," when Hoskins decided to offer Pearce the position.

Hoskins believes that LaFaro, Pearce, and Husband just wanted to help get the word out about the EAF, a move that would be "a good feather in the cap of the Republican Party."

Indeed, Hoskins provided me with a chart of EAF distributions by legislative district. The highest concentration of affected parcels, 993, are in LD 25, where Pearce lives.

The treasurer said there was nothing untoward in all this and that he would even give the same presentation to the local Democratic Party, if it wanted to assist with the EAF.

But would Hoskins have hired a Democrat with a checkered background to that same $85K-a-year job?

I doubt it.

To bring us full circle, Husband is the chairman of the Arizona Taxpayers Action Committee, a GOP independent-expenditure committee that this year has opposed legislators who backed Governor Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion.

This election cycle's operating expenses for ATAC included $6,110 to KKNT 960 AM for "radio advertising."

And in fact, ATAC's commercials run during Pearce's show, proudly proclaiming the committee's support for Pearce's opinions.

Tying the knot tighter, Pearce has donated to date more than $4,000 to ATAC. Flora has donated $2,600. Which in turn goes to help Pearce stay on the air.

In a roundabout way, you could say that county taxpayers now are supporting Pearce's vanity radio project by way of his $85,000-a-year county salary.

You know, so Pearce can continue to condemn those taking government handouts. Like himself.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons